Vikings Gone Wild: Masters of Elements
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Deck Selection in Modern

“Is Modern a good competitive format?”

This question was a popular point of contention among Magic players this past week, and it’s something I’ve addressed numerous times in the past. While Modern is a perfectly balanced format, now more so than ever, the argument against it is that the inability to make informed metagame decisions is not good for the format in a competitive sense. Until recently, this is a sentiment I shared. I believed that there were simply too many solid and well represented archetypes to poke a hole in the format, but I have to admit that I was wrong.

This past weekend, there was player who completely dominated a Modern tournament with their unique take on a fringe deck. The player didn’t lose a single match on their way to taking down the title, a truly impressive feat. They were able to identify a key trend among all of the most popular decks in Modern, and their efforts were rewarded. I’m actually embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t thought of it before. What do decks like Death's Shadow, Eldrazi Tron, Titan Shift, Affinity, Storm, Burn, Counters Company, Jeskai Control, Bogles, Elves, Jund, rg Ponza and Slivers all have in common? They all only play 60 cards!

In all seriousness, while I still do believe that Modern is a pretty bad format for large-scale tournaments, I recognize that there’s very little to be gained by constantly complaining about it. If Modern is going to continue receiving the same amount of support that it currently does, there’s nothing more I can do besides work hard to find whatever edges I can. The edges you can gain in deck selection in this format are rather small compared to a format like Standard, but they do still exist. There are three core philosophies you can subscribe to when it comes to selecting a Modern deck for a specific tournament. Identifying which is optimal for a given tournament and the best decks to play when you do decide which approach is optimal, may lead to notable increase in your win percentage.

1) Play The Busted Decks

Notable Examples:

  • Storm
  • Affinity
  • Ad Nauseam
  • Infect
  • Dredge

This is by far my most recommended approach. When the metagame is open to the extent that it is in Modern, trying to be reactive can be dangerous. People are going to show up with linear decks, and you’re not going to be prepared for them all. When this is the case, the best option is to do something busted as well. The majority of your opponents will have a plan against you, but having a plan only means so much. They still have to draw their sideboard cards, and even doing so is incredibly far from a guaranteed win. When determining what broken deck to play, I would look toward either the most linear of the bunch or the most resilient.

A good example of a deck on the hyper-linear side that has been making a bit of a resurgence lately is an old favorite of mine, Infect.

I worked on this deck a lot for SCG Charlotte before ultimately deciding to play Grixis Death's Shadow, but I was impressed with how it was performing. The more open the format is, the more appealing Infect is. This is why we’re starting to see the deck pop up again. Shapers' Sanctuary is nice new tool for the deck too, but it requires a bit of an adjustment in deck-building. The idea behind Shapers' Sanctuary is that it replaces your threats, but the deck needs a higher density of threats in order for this to be a realistic plan. I’ve always thought Ichorclaw Myr was a perfectly serviceable creature, and now that the deck has been forced to slow down a bit without Gitaxian Probe, I think a slightly more resilient and threat dense version of the deck is ideal. With that being said, I would be weary of slowing down the deck too much. The draw to Infect is still its goldfish speed. If it’s not the fastest deck in the format, then it’s not good.

For a deck that’s a bit slower but more resilient, I’d have to recommend Storm. Storm appears to be the best deck in Modern right now, and I’m honestly not sure how close it is. It’s pretty much everything you could want in a Modern deck. It’s incredibly fast, resilient to a variety of hate cards, and has room to run interaction. The current amount of hate being played just doesn’t seem like enough to cut it. Until we start seeing copies of Rule of Law and Mindbreak Trap in larger numbers, Storm is going to continue winning. Getting reps in with the deck now may be a good idea.

2) Be Mediocre Against Most Things

Notable Examples:

This doesn’t sound like the most compelling case, and it isn’t, but it’s the category most Modern decks fall under. If you’re content with your Modern deck and you’re confident in your ability to navigate through the more popular matchups, playing one of these decks is fine. It’s when deciding to play decks that fall under this category that there’s the largest room for error. You generally don’t have the luxury of having very many favorable matchups, so you need to have a good list, a solid understanding of popular matchups, and cohesive sideboard plans.

If you’re going to play Modern this way, I’d still recommend Death's Shadow.

Despite doing well with the deck recently, my confidence in the deck is a fraction of what it used to be. If you’re more comfortable playing another deck in this category, I would recommend just sticking to that. The more open the format is, the worse a deck like Death's Shadow is. If I were going to play the deck again, I would make some pretty drastic changes.

One of the biggest reasons why Death's Shadow has struggled recently is because of how hybridized the lists have become. By being part grindy deck part Delver deck, the deck was left with very few favorable matchups. If you plan on playing the deck anytime soon, I highly recommend moving to a more all in game plan.

3) Go Rogue

Fraying Sanity
The idea here is that If you can’t be prepared for all of your opponents, make sure they’re not prepared for you. In a format replete with powerful sideboard cards, there’s a lot of equity to be gained in doing this. The difficulty in this is that it generally requires some innovating. It’s incredibly unlikely that there’s a deck out there good enough to be a real contender in a large tournament as is, but no one is either playing or respecting the deck. You’re going to have to put some work in if you want to take this approach.

While I was being facetious, the ub Mill deck I posted earlier is actually a perfect example of this. With only a single plan of attack, the deck is quite linear. If you want to beat mill, you can.

It would probably only take a few sideboard slots, but it’s not quite that simple. You’d have to be pretty insane to dedicate any sideboard slots to beat the one person in the room playing mill when decks like Storm, Affinity, and Dredge exist.

Aside from being played by almost no one, the reason that no player has ever sideboarded a card for the mill matchup in the history of the Modern format is that the deck simply wasn’t good enough to command any respect. It’s far from the equivalent of playing something like Dredge but dodging graveyard hate. But by making use of a few new cards, Toybird may have made ub Mill into something Modern players need to respect.

Fraying Sanity is the most notable addition, and it significantly speeds up the deck’s clock. With the ability to consistently goldfish by turn four, Mill isn’t much slower than the fastest decks in Modern. This, combined with the fact that no one will be prepared for it, could make it something to keep an eye on.

Field of Ruin is the other new card to make an appearance in the list. It’s so innocuous that I almost missed it at first, but Field of Ruin is actually great for the deck. Weirdly enough, the search option on Field of Ruin isn’t a may. You can fail to find, but unlike Ghost Quarter, you’re required to search your library. This is pretty big deal for a deck that leans on Archive Trap to do some heavy lifting in most of its matchups. Toybird even included two copies of Trapmaker's Snare to function as additional copies of Archive Trap.

The other rogue deck that had a breakout performance this past weekend was Collins Mullen’s take on Humans.

A quick aside, I’ve stated in the past that I think the desire to be credited in a game like Magic is asinine. Millions of people actively play the game, people are going to have the same ideas. The person who receives credit for something is generally the one who popularized it and the most deserving. But with that being said, this deck was basically all my idea.

Not like it’s a big deal or anything.

Collins chose to eschew the typical Collected Company shell, instead favoring Aether Vial. This decision enables Ancient Ziggurat as an option for the deck, allowing him access to all five colors at a relatively low cost. And without access to Path to Exile or Collected Company, the deck is forced to take a much more proactive approach. Collins clearly acknowledged this in his decision to include Mantis Rider in the deck. While I’m typically not a huge Aether Vial fan, I do think this take on the deck is better for the time being. By incorporating more proactive elements, you really capitalize on the disruption cards that cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Thalia, Heretic Cathar, and Kitesail Freebooter provide.

Again, this is another strategy that isn’t too difficult to prepare for when it’s a known quantity. Figuring out how to beat a deck with 51 creatures shouldn’t prove problematic, but it will take time to adjust. Until we reach that point, this is one of the better options in the format.

It can be easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options in Modern, and it can feel like your choice is insignificant, but it’s important to remember that no two decks will give you the exact same chance of winning an event. There will always be a “best” option, but you might need to work a bit harder to find it.

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